HomeEast Brunswick SentinelEB News'Fix It' program aids South River seniors

‘Fix It’ program aids South River seniors

SOUTH RIVER From fixing door locks to removing outside debris, the South River Office on Aging’s “Household Fix It” program focuses on assisting elderly residents.

“The senior Household Fix It program was initially introduced in 2014 as a Bathroom Safety Program, after our office began to receive an increasing number of requests from members inquiring about the availability of grab bars and tub rails,” said Office on Aging Director Kim Bell, who has been serving the borough’s senior citizen population since 2007.

“After learning that one of our seniors had paid upwards of $250 to have one grab bar installed in her bathroom, it became clear that people on a fixed income likely couldn’t afford such an expense, and it was something worth pursuing. I approached the Middlesex County Office of Aging and Disabled Services to request funding for a pilot program, and soon thereafter, we purchased and installed nearly 60 grab bars in a 30-day period,” Bell said.

The program is available to seniors who are registered with the borough’s Office on Aging who are age 60 and over, on a first-come, first-served basis, free of charge, according to Bell.

The types of services include replacing and/or installing door locks or devices which deter crime, weatherization improvements, changing screen and storm doors, minor plumbing such as leaking faucets and running toilets, minor electrical work such as outdoor sensor lights and indoor ceiling fans, installing grab bars and tub rails, re-attaching and/or removing debris from gutters, and other minor necessary home services and repairs, according to Bell.

Basic materials, such as toilet kits, weather-stripping, caulk, grout, spackle, grab bars, tub rails, etc., are also included at no cost, Bell said.

Services excluded from the program are installation, repair or disposal of major appliances; roofing and siding; landscaping; aesthetic improvements; or any service that requires a permit, variance or inspection by a government agency or official.

“The goal of the program is to afford senior citizens the opportunity to remain in their homes, living independently for as long as possible. If we can help seniors address a minor repair before it becomes a major one, or adapt their environment to maximize safety, the risk of institutional placement is greatly minimized,” Bell said. “We’ve tried to eliminate the financial constraints and uncertainty often associated with making repairs so that our members aren’t faced with having to choose between filling their prescriptions or hiring a handyman.”

Bell said the program was expanded in 2016 to include a fire safety component.

“We purchased 10-year battery-operated smoke detectors and partnered with the South River Fire Department, whose volunteers handled the installation of the devices in the seniors’ homes. It was important for us to ensure that proper safety standards were met, and the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive,” she said.

Phyllis McLaughlin has been a resident for 50 years and has been using the Household Fix It program for more than three years.

“This is a very beneficial program. At first I had difficulty getting up and down my stairs and I also had problems going up and down to my basement. So they came to my house and installed hand rails and I thought, ‘This is great,'” she said. “Before I had my knee replacement surgery, four weeks ago, they installed a [grab] bar in my bathroom so that I could get out of the bath tub.”

John Scala has been a resident for 61 years. He said he started using the program to help him and his wife, who passed away last year.

“When they come to fix something there is a representative from the office and a handyman. They installed grip bars in my bathroom so that me and my wife, before she passed away, could get out of the shower and bathtub a lot easier. … I consider them installing those grab bars a lifesaver for me and my wife,” Scala said.

Bell said the program has served 236 people since its inception, and is 100 percent federally-funded by the Older Americans Act Safe Housing and Transportation Program, a grant made available by the Middlesex County Office of Aging and Disabled Services.

There is no cost to taxpayers or to participating senior citizens. However, participants may make a donation to the South River Senior Trust.

For more information about the program, visit www.southrivernj.org/OOA-Notices/2015/Fix-It-Program.pdf or call 732-257-2340.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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